Voting is underway in Afghanistan’s presidential election on Saturday amid heavy security and Taliban threats to boycott the poll process.

Some 9.6 million Afghans – 34.5 per cent of them women – are eligible to vote. A total of 15 candidates are in the fray, including incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, who is seeking a second term in office, and his Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Efe news reported.

In most other countries, repeated high-profile losses would almost certainly spell the end of a political career, despite Abdullah’s credentials from years serving with the anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban resistance and later in government.

Abdullah’s first election bid was in 2009 when he faced off with the then incumbent, Hamid Karzai; then in 2014, he fought two rounds with Ghani, losing in a runoff in which he claimed as many as fraudulent votes were cast.

Saturday’s presidential election is the fourth in Afghanistan since 2001 when the US troops invaded the country to oust the Taliban regime.

Due to Taliban threats, the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) will hold election only in 4,942 out of the total 7,385 polling centres.

Of these, 675 voting centres have been designated highly sensitive from a security point of view while as 907 face low-security threats. Some 3,360 have been declared fully secure for voting.

The Afghan government has decided to deploy 72,000 soldiers across the country to maintain law and order during the voting, according to the Interior Ministry.

An additional 30,000 troops will also be on standby to respond to any imminent Taliban attack.

Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan has been completely taken over by security forces with checkpoints and barricades every few metres, while trucks and vans have been banned after the city witnessed several attacks this year that killed dozens of people.

Washington and the Taliban have held nine rounds of negotiations for more than a year in Qatar.

Earlier this month, both sides had reached a draft agreement when US President Donald Trump decided to suspend talks with the insurgents.

But if Trump decides to resume the talks, the new Afghan President will find himself required to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban, something on the agendas of most candidates.

Afghan analysts and political figures such as former President Hamid Karzai have warned that the elections could result in a weakened government in the face of fraud allegations from losing candidates, as has happened on other occasions in the country.

(With IANS inputs)